A FLICK OF THE LEO MANE

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

~*~

  1. This shift in my wilderness destinations, from mountains to ocean. When did that happen?
  2. The ripening of peaches spurs trips to our favorite pick-your-own orchard a half-hour to our north. More trips will follow for apples.
  3. Maybe I really am an “advocate of living-up-the-world-in-your-own-village,” as one comment chimed.
  4. I do like the concept of transitioning, rather than progressing, with all of its assumptions.
  5. Overheard at Walden Pond: “No, they won’t even get in a car anymore. They ride their bikes everywhere.”
  6. The Wiggly Bridge for hikers beside the York River. One way to get over high tide.
  7. Home Depot workers call their pesticide section the Wall of Death.
  8. So many field notes from spiritual aspiration and practice springing from a muse of fire. The one that’s sometimes scorched me.
  9. My life as a failure. There’s no autobiographical novel to be written on my last 30 years.
  10. A bumper sticker I’d like to create: I’D RATHER BE READING.

~*~

Downtown venting, here In Dover.
Downtown venting, here In Dover.

 

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TEN REASONS TO GO TO YEARLY MEETING

In Quaker organizational structure, the ultimate decision-making body is the Yearly Meeting – so named because of its annual sessions. While the central event is the convocation, the organization itself (also called the Yearly Meeting) has ongoing activities and committee meetings throughout the year. One of the purposes of the gathering is simply to coordinate and nurture these missions.

Unlike some denominations, we have no central headquarters. Our Yearly Meetings are rather distributed across the country and the globe, and these bodies work together through cooperative affiliations, shared projects, communication, and inter-visitation.

My local Friends Meeting is part of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, the oldest such body in the world. In fact, when more than 800 people – representatives, their spouses, and children – assemble next month on the Castleton University campus in Vermont, it will be our 358th gathering. (Until 1905, we met in Newport, Rhode Island. Since then, we’ve moved around New England.)

Here are some reasons I attend, whenever possible.

  1. It’s inspiring. I’m reenergized and refreshed by the daily devotion of some very dedicated Friends I’ve come to treasure over the years. Some of them are deeply involved in peace and social justice work. For others, it’s environmental or economic. And still others, it’s radical theology. For all, it’s rooted in a shared faith.
  2. It’s challenging. My assumptions are tested from alternative perspectives and actions are questioned in rounds of profound introspection and spiritual direction – something that’s ultimately cleansing and refreshing.
  3. The Bible Half-Hour. Each year a respected Friend is invited to discuss selected Biblical texts and stories in the half-hour right after breakfast each morning. Last year we spent 2½ lively hours on a single sentence from Romans. It’s rarely anything you’d expect to hear from a pulpit but rather a personal journey that’s an eyeopener in more ways than one.
  4. We’re always eating. Or so it seems. Dorm food was never like this back when I was in college – it’s gotten so much better. The reality is that we’re usually lingering over animated conversations, sometimes at a table set aside for a specific topic or group focus.
  5. The clerking. Crucial to the success of Quaker business is the skill of our clerks. At Yearly Meeting, this means the presiding clerk, two recording clerks who are minuting our deliberations, and two reading clerks. Since we arrive at decisions without ever taking a vote and still face crowded agendas, clerking is a unique art. Time after time, what I observe is the best. Admittedly, though, sometimes it can be trying – very trying.
  6. Few of our Meetings include music as part of our worship, but Yearly Meeting has times that reveal the amazing voices and talents in our midst. These can be emotionally moving.
  7. Workshops and “opportunities.” Tucked into each day are short presentations, discussions, or even documentaries based on particular interests Friends carry. These can be anything from parenting and child care to Mideast peace to nomadic reindeer herders to new publications to theology or history. I hate it when three or four at the same time compete for my attention.
  8. Just good to get away. It’s a unique kind of vacation. Who could possibly complain about driving across New Hampshire and Vermont, for instance? Period.
  9. The contacts. This means reconnecting with incredible people and being introduced to more – individuals I’m likely to be working with somewhere in the future, and perhaps even in the past. I’m often surprised when someone I don’t recognize says, “I remember when you …” So far, it’s always been in a positive light.
  10. We’re building on a revolutionary foundation. The Quaker movement emerged in the upheavals of mid-1600s Britain, one of the most incredible periods in history when it comes to social, economic, political, and religious breakthroughs. Being part of a group central to that legacy and its continuing advances is both humbling and exciting, especially in the face of the difficulties of our own time.

 ~*~

Is there a similar assembly – maybe a camp? – that you like to attend for similar reasons? What is it? And why?

~*~

 

Continuing the poetry parade, see what’s new at THISTLE/FLINCH.

WELCOME TO AMERICA

In my new novel, What’s Left, her mother’s grandparents sail from Patras, Greece, to America in the years just before the First World War. In contrast, her father’s side appears to have farmed the Midwest in the oblivion of forever.

In observance of Independence Day, here are images from the Library of Congress in homage to those immigrants who arrived in that period by way of Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

Greeks board rowboats to a steamer in Patras to begin their voyage to the New World.
The faces on these women still say everything.
Imagine the anxiety of approaching the registration desk, to learn if it’s yes or no or maybe.
The view of the harbor filled with hope and the unknown.
Think of all that’s left behind, too.

 

ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Earlier this year, I updated the cover and tweaked the contents of my novel Hometown News.

I liked the new image, of a house on fire rather than one of a girl in autumn leaves. The story is, after all, about a community in crisis rather than the delights of living in idyllic repose.

The new image, however, challenged the use of placing the book title and author. The colors jump all over the place, and I just couldn’t figure out a way to drop the words in effectively. Well, you can see what I did. Still, I felt ambivalent about the results.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was looking at my revised lineup at Smashwords and sensed this one just didn’t quite match the style or tone of the others. Time for a few tweaks.

So here’s what we have now:

Hometown News

After this:

Hometown News

Which replaced this one:

Hometown News

The covers of my Smashwords editions originally paid homage to Richard Brautigan’s classic books of the ’60s, each of which had a portrait of a pretty young woman.

Any reactions?

SOMETHING MORE COMPELLING

Looking at my new lineup at Smashwords, I felt one cover just didn’t match.

The first round of my editions there had covers that were an homage to Richard Brautigan’s classic books of the ’60s, each of which had a portrait of a pretty young woman.

As I looked at the cover image, though, it felt dated. Looking closer, I realized it also didn’t reflect the edginess of the contents. I wanted something more compelling than a woman in quiet reflection.

So here’s what we have now:

Blue Rock

Rather than this:

Blue Rock

Whaddya think? For more, go to Blue Rock.

GIVE THE DAUGHTER HER DUE

My latest round of revising my fiction has felt somehow different from my previous encounters.

Well, I would include the round with What’s Left last fall, so maybe I can blame Cassia for my new experience. That novel, however, was always envisioned as a much less experimental work than my previous efforts.

The latest efforts have included deep cuts, including major sections I was quite fond of, and changing the tone. But these also meant creating page after page of new material, especially details to develop side characters more fully. Not just what they’re thinking, either, but rather what they’re feeling.

Much of my personal writing has functioned as an exercise to counter the dumbing-down editing required in the newspaper work that provided my income. You know, tone it down to what used to be seen as sixth-grade reading level.

Not just newspapers, either. I see too much pedestrian prose posing as literature and know language can have much more vitality and depth than that, thank you. Harry Potter, at least, has proven that many sixth-graders can read at much more advanced levels than they’re given credit for.

One thing, though. Five years after leaving the newsroom, I no longer feel that dumbing-down struggle as I write and revise, nor do I have to work my own writing into small blocks of time between everything else.

What I am surprised to see, though, is how much of the journalism influence was at work in the just-the-facts approach to my stories. I’ve seen much of my work – both poetry and fiction – as a kind of on-the-run graffiti, jazzlike, with an improvisatory tone and jagged edge. Daily journalism, for that matter, is typically done under deadline. Essentially, I saw the flow of clashing events as the core of the tale.

The biggest change in the recent revision has been the focus on the characters – and especially their feelings. Remember, in journalism, the only feelings would be through direct quotes. Anything else would be editorializing, not that you’d know in what passes for broadcast journalism on most American television stations these days.

Again, I’m going to credit my character Cassia for much of my shift. She’s having me examine that earlier work through her eyes as well as her voice.

In recasting her father’s backstory, for example, I’ve been continuing the present-tense emphasis as much as possible, with a more conversational tone than the conventional literary past-tense would carry. How would she feel about this or that development?

Oh, yes, one more thing. With her, it shouldn’t sound literary. She’s talking, remember?

The emotional element, though, has engulfed me. Engaging the characters on this level has consumed much of my time and thought, including my nights abed or my time on the treadmill or stationary bike during cardio therapy. It’s made for much slower going on my part as far as the revisions progressed. But it’s also led to a much more complete comprehension of the evolving story.

In the end, I’m hoping these move readers in ways the earlier ones didn’t.

WHEN THE DAUGHTER TAKES OVER

When I wrote the four novels that formed my Hippie Trails series, Cassia was nowhere in sight.

But now that she’s taken center stage in What’s Left, she’s changed my perspective on those earlier novels. Quite simply, I’ve revised them to bring them more into line with her story. Drastically revised them, in fact – deep cuts, offset by new material.

Quite simply, they’re now her discovery of her father and his era rather than mine. Having a character take over a book is rather eerie, actually, especially when she’s livelier and more interesting and more critical than I’d be. Moreover, she wasn’t even present in those earlier works – they’re all before her birth. Before she was even conceived, as it were.

That hasn’t stopped her from pushing for more extensive revisions than I had anticipated. Not only are the novels all retitled – and two are even compressed into one – but many of the characters are renamed, a few new figures are introduced, and hefty cuts are offset by rich new detail and restructured storylines.

So what we have now is Daffodil Uprising, Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, and Subway Visions. And the series they form with What’s Left is no longer Hippie Trails but Freakin’ Free Spirits.

Well, quite simply, my wife hates the word “hippie,” says too often these days it translates as “loser” or “lame,” and I wanted something that might fit bohemians over time … in this case from Cassia’s Greek great-grandparents right down to today.

By the way, I’m still blaming Cassia for my putting so much else aside in the past five months. She just wouldn’t shut up, and she can be quite bossy. Admittedly, though, I’m much happier with the novels as they’ve evolved and finally emerged. Let’s hope she is, too.

As for you and other readers? That’s the real question.